cure / treat / heal / recover

The verb treat is used for giving medical aid; making efforts to help a sick or injured person get better: The doctor treated the girl with antibiotics. Heal is typically used for injuries and wounds (not diseases), when the injury gets better naturally by the body’s own processes: It was just a minor cut, it…

answer / reply / respond

These verbs have essentially the same meaning. You can: answer an email reply to an email (most common when talking about e-mail) respond to an email When someone calls you, you answer the phone (or pick up the phone). When you make a statement or some comments, we usually say the other person replies or…

gratuity / tip

When you go to a restaurant in the United States, it is customary to pay extra money for the service of your waiter or waitress. This extra money is called the tip or gratuity. Usually you, the customer, decide how much money you want to leave as a tip (it is customary to leave between…

clever / intelligent / smart

Intelligent and smart are the same. Smart is more informal. In an official report or scientific article, we would probably use “intelligent,” and in everyday speaking, we would probably use “smart.” The stereotype that blondes are less intelligent is unsupported by scientific evidence. Your daughter is 3 years old and she already knows how to…

If I was… / If I were…

Which is correct? If I were you, I’d apologize. If I was you, I’d apologize. The first one is correct – If I were you – because this is a hypothetical (imaginary) situation. It is not possible for me to be you, but I am imagining that this is the case. Here are more examples…

ceiling / roof

The upper interior surface of a room is called the ceiling. The upper exterior surface of a building is called the roof. A tall apartment building has many ceilings inside it, because each level has its own ceiling – but it only has one roof, at the very top.

persons / peoples

In everyday English, the plural form of person is people: One person came to the English class. Two people came to the English class. The word peoples means two or more people groups: There are various indigenous peoples living in the Amazon. Many different languages are spoken among the peoples of Africa. The word persons…

worse / worst

Worse is the comparative (comparing two things). Worst is the superlative (comparing 3+ things, or comparing one thing with everything). I thought the second movie was worse than the first one. (comparing two movies) That’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen. (always use “the” before “worst”) (comparing one movie with ALL the others) In fast…

change / switch

The word change means for something to become different. The word switch is more specific – it means to stop using/doing one thing and start using/doing another. I’m going to change a few things in my life this year. Could you switch seats with me, so I can sit next to my husband? (the two…

another / other / others

The word other is an adjective. It refers to something different. The teacher held a textbook in one hand and a pencil in the other hand. The word “other” is often used with “the.” It can be used with singular or plural nouns: We crossed to the other side of the street. I liked the…

haven’t / don’t have

The verb have is used both as a main verb and as a helping verb: Main verb (possession): I have a computer. I have a dog. Helping verb (present perfect): I have done my homework. We have finished the work. There are two ways to make the negative form of have: 1. Don’t have /…

distinct / distinctive

The word distinct means: 1) that something is clearly and noticeably different or separate from other things Three distinct languages are spoken in this region. Please make sure to keep your opinions distinct from the facts when writing the article. We’re dealing with two distinct problems here. 2) that something is strong and obvious: There…

ago / back / before

Ago and back are used for past times from the present moment: I graduated from high school ten years ago. (ten years in the past from today) We sent the package three days ago. (three days in the past from today) I moved here about five years back. (informal – five years in the past…

bill / invoice / receipt

Bill and invoice both refer to a document that is requiring money to be paid for goods or services provided. In everyday conversation, we usually talk about bills: The electrical company sends you an electrical bill. The phone company sends you a phone bill. After you get treated in a hospital, if you don’t have…

to / for

Use TO in these cases: 1. Destination “We’re going to Paris.” 2. What time it is “It’s a quarter to 6.” 3. Distance “It’s about ten miles from my house to the university.” 4. Comparing “I prefer sleeping to working.” 5. Giving “I gave the book to my sister.” 6. Motive/Reason – with verb “I…

scream / shout

Shouting is simply speaking loudly or making a loud sound. If you saw your friend some distance away at a crowded park, you might shout her name to get her attention. A soccer coach might shout instructions to the players on the field. Shouting can be angry, joyful, or neutral. When you scream, you make…

discreet / discrete

These words are pronounced the same, and they are both adjectives. Discrete means separate, distinct, individual: The two companies have a partnership, but they are discrete entities. We offer three discrete service plans: internet only, internet + cell phone, and internet + cell phone + TV. Discreet describes something that is modest and does not…

replace / substitute

Both of these words mean to put something in place of another, but there are a few differences in usage. Let’s look at two cases: with people and with objects. Replacements tend to be long-term or permanent. They often involve something of the same type: – If a part in your car breaks, you need…

how about…? / what about…?

Use “How about?” to suggest an action and to “open” possibilities: “I’ve got the day off from work tomorrow. What should we do?” “How about spending the day in the city?” “Nah. I don’t really feel like traveling.” “How about we clean the house?” “No way. I want to do something fun.” “OK. How about…

blanket / comforter / quilt

A blanket is a large piece of cloth covering a bed, which helps keep you warm when you sleep. A comforter is a very thick blanket, usually filled with soft and fluffy material inside. It will keep you extra-warm… and comfortable! A quilt is a type of blanket made by sewing different pieces of fabric…

assure / ensure / insure

Assure means to tell another person something to remove doubt or anxiety. I was afraid we’d miss the flight, but my husband assured me we’d get to the airport in time. I assure you that the water here is perfectly safe to drink. After assure, we always have a person: assure you, assure him/her, etc….

difficult / hard

Difficult is the opposite of easy. It means that something requires lots of effort to do it. Hard can be the opposite of “soft” (such as a hard pillow and a soft pillow) but it can also mean “difficult.” For example, you can say: The test was difficult. = The test was hard. It’s difficult…

such as / as such

Such as means “like” or “for example”: There are lots of things to see in New York City, such as the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and Times Square. Many of Paulo Coelho’s books, such as The Alchemist, are famous worldwide. Note: “For example” is typically used to start a sentence; “such as” (more formal)…

ex- / former / previous

Previous means “immediately before,” and former means “at any time in the past.” Your former employer means any employer you have had in your past, at any time. Your previous employer typically means the most recent employer you had in your past. A former president is any of the many people who have held the…

earn / gain / win

To win is to be #1 in a competition, or to receive an award. My soccer team won the game 3-1. I want to win the lottery! John won a prize in the science competition. You can win a game, a race, a match, a competition, or the lottery. You can also win a medal…

like / as

We use as to talk about a job or function: I worked as an executive assistant for ten years. (job) He used a pair of scissors as a weapon to defend himself from the attacker. (function) We use like to make a comparison: That cloud looks like a dragon. She sings like an angel. ne…

beg / plead

Both of these words mean to ask strongly, with a lot of deep emotion: When John’s wife wanted to leave him, he begged her to stay. When John’s wife wanted to leave him, he pleaded with her to stay. The student begged for more time to complete the assignment, and the teacher gave her two…

allude / elude

If you allude to something, it means you refer to it indirectly, without saying it specifically. For example, if there is a software program with lots of bugs and errors, the developer might allude to the problems by saying “The process of developing the software has been very challenging.” – He does not mention the…

wary / weary

Wary means “suspicious” or “cautious,” and weary means “very tired.” $1000 for a new car? I’m wary of that offer – it sounds too good to be true. Every parent has days when they become weary. There is a small pronunciation difference between wary and weary: The ar in wary is like in the words…

what / which

We usually prefer to use which when choosing between a limited number of options (like two or three, or options from inside a category) and what when there is no limit to the number of options: Which do you like better – ketchup or mustard? (only two options) Which philosophy books do you recommend? (options…